Which Type of Customer Data Platform is Best for You

A Category Overview of the Different Types of Customer Data Platforms on the Market

You’re thinking about investing in a Customer Data Platform (CDP) but don’t know where to start? With 153 different CDPs on the market (24 of which were new in 2021!), figuring out the starting point is daunting. CDPI, Forrester, and Gartner have tried to simplify this task by breaking CDPs into different categories. Still, buyers are left little clarity on which type of customer data platform is best for them without clarity on the various types.

Rather than naming each category of CDP, we will focus on what each type of CDP does for your business. 


What is a CDP?

There are many definitions of a CDP out there. At its very core, a CDP is martech software that creates a unified view of your customer data across various systems in a single place.  This process increases data availability throughout the entire organization. To be a true CDP, the software must perform four key functions: customer ingestion, unification, activation, and integration. The end goal is for marketing teams to have customer profiles that are both accurate and comprehensive.


To be a true CDP, you must: 

  • Ingest customer data from multiple sources
  • Unify customer profiles into a single view via identity resolution 
  • Activate “Real-time” customer segments
  • Integrate customer data to other systems, out-of-the-box


This transformation helps get the right data into the hands of the right people to make more informed decisions. 


The Three Types of Customer Data Platforms

Now that we have seen the outcomes any CDP should enable, we can dive into the results you can expect from the different types of CDPs. 


Data Streaming CDP


Data Streaming (also called data or data integration by other accounts) is the first and most basic category of a CDP. This type of CDP focuses on the fundamentals of what every CDP should do- gathering, ingesting, and centralizing an organization’s customer data. This collected data is then linked to customer identities and made available for other systems.


Best For You If…

The pros of this type of CDP are its strength around tag management, streaming data collection, and aggregation. These platforms can create audience segments, predictive models, and identity resolution. This type of CDP is best for businesses with large events volumes, many data sources, and destinations, and a significant amount of technical resources to implement and maintain the thing.


Not the Best Fit If…

The downside to this type of platform is its lack of greater capabilities. Marketers will still need to rely heavily on data teams for greater campaign automation. Data Streaming CDPs will need other supporting technologies to be most effective. This reliance is taxing on resources such as tech resources, downstream orchestration needs, and cost at scale.


Orchestration CDP

Orchestration (sometimes called Campaign CDPs or Smart Hubs) specializes in building customer profiles and segments. Later, these segments create more personalized messaging. This platform aims to increase audience engagement via better targeted and tailored messages and recommendations. In large, orchestration CDPs are focused on empowering cross-channel marketing to enable marketing outcomes.


Best For You If…

The benefit of this type is its ease of use for marketers. Generally speaking, Orchestration CDPs have an intuitive interface that allows non-technical users to create segments quickly. This design helps marketers tailor and strengthen customer experiences independently of other teams. 

Another pro of these CDPs is their data assembly, analytics, and enhanced segmentation. These enhancements allow you to specialize segmentation on an individual level- allowing for greater degrees of personalized messaging in outbound campaigns, real-time interactions, and recommendations. From there, this tailoring can be used across multiple channels. Which is to say, if you use multiple channels, or plan to in the future, this CDP is the best option. It eliminates channel silos and gives you  360 marketing view.

Also, if you’re a marketer and personalization and speed matter to you, this CDP is right for you. Orchestration CDPs allow you to work independently of your data/tech teams while still creating campaigns that go beyond segmentation and have a personal feel.


Not the Best Fit If…

Not all marketing teams need a high level of campaign orchestration, and that’s okay. If you are currently using one channel to communicate with your customers and are looking for insights without activation across multiple channels, this type of CDP isn’t right for you.


Automation CDP

This type of CDP (also called delivery CDPs) focuses on the swift execution of marketing campaigns. These platforms provide data assembly, analytics, and enhanced segmentation, all serving message delivery via email, website, mobile apps, and more.


Best For You If…

The main pro of this type of CDP is the level of automation involved in campaign development. It provides a native execution on messaging. If you are looking for a hands-off CDP that will work behind the scenes, this is the CDP for you.


Not the Best Fit If…

Many automation CDPs started as a messaging system that added CDP functionality as an afterthought. These types of CDP are good at automatically launching preset campaigns but often struggle using real-time data to adjust messaging. If you’re looking for a messaging platform with a lightweight CDP, these are great tools. However, if you need more robust data capabilities, there are better CDP options.


The Marketing Cloud

I have seen a few categories list separate cloud CDPs, but I chose not to for a few reasons. As stated above, one of the requirements of being a true CDP is out-of-the-box integrations with other systems, which is a pro of cloud platforms. Also, not all cloud CDPs function the same way. Yes, they are all built by large companies. Still, they offer various solutions, which I feel fit in the CDP categories above. 


How to Buy the Right CDP for You

Finding the right CDP is all about determining the functionality your business needs. Before buying a CDP, you should assess the problems a CDP will solve for you. If you’re looking for solid data unification with low marketing segmentation or campaign orchestrated functionality, a data streaming CDP is a good fit for you. If you’re looking for high degrees of personalized communications across all channels, an orchestration CDP is best. Finally, suppose you are looking for a CDP that automatically sends out messages with a lesser degree of personalization. In that case, an automation CDP is what you want.  

Regardless of which type of CDP you end up buying, make sure it can ingest, unify, and integrate your data, enabling you to create audience segments.  


For more help on choosing the right CDP check out our CDP Buyer’s Guide.

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